Super GT Silly Season Update: Nissan and Lexus Spotlight

Tokyo Auto Salon 2019 has wrapped up, and we know who will race for Honda in the GT500 class of the Autobacs Super GT Series in the coming year.

Now the focus turns to the other two manufacturers in the GT500 class, and in February we will soon know who will race for Lexus and Nissan. This will be a quicker update than previous updates.

DISCLAIMER: All of the information in this article is speculative, and has not been confirmed by any of the manufacturers, drivers, or teams involved.

Honda’s 2019 lineup will be led by reigning champions Naoki Yamamoto and Jenson Button in the #1 Raybrig NSX-GT for Team Kunimitsu, and the #8 ARTA NSX-GT of Tomoki Nojiri and Takuya Izawa which won two races. Hideki Mutoh and Daisuke Nakajima return to the #16 Mugen NSX-GT, with a new team director at the helm in Shinji Nakano.

Bertrand Baguette replaces Takashi Kogure in the #17 Keihin NSX-GT alongside Koudai Tsukakoshi. And an all-new Modulo Nakajima Racing lineup will feature the debuting Narain Karthikeyan and the returning Tadasuke Makino in the #64 Modulo NSX-GT.

Toyota unveiled their 2020 Supra GT500 concept at Tokyo Auto Salon, that will replace the Lexus LC500 after this season. But there’s still the question of who will drive those six Lexus in the season to come. This is the lineup that’s been expected for weeks:

Kazuki Nakajima and Yuhi Sekiguchi in the #36 au TOM’s LC500, and Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy in the #37 KeePer TOM’s LC500. Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura in the #38 ZENT Cerumo LC500. Kenta Yamashita will move to the #6 Wako’s 4CR LC500 to partner Kazuya Oshima.

Sho Tsuboi would move up to the #19 WedsSport Advan LC500 to partner the returning Yuji Kunimoto, and Yuichi Nakayama would replace Kamui Kobayashi in the #39 Denso Kobelco SARD LC500 alongside Heikki Kovalainen.

Nakajima will of course miss the Fuji 500km due to his WEC commitments in Spa-Francorchamps, so his stand-in is yet to be announced for that weekend. Most likely, it’ll be either one of Toyota Young Drivers Ritomo Miyata or Kazuto Kotaka, or it’ll be the expected new hire for Tsuchiya Engineering, Kimiya Sato.

Now, as for Nissan…

The only certainty for weeks has been that Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli would return to the #23 Motul Autech GT-R for NISMO, and that all the other lineups will be drastically overhauled for next season.

In the latest issue of auto sport Magazine, volume 1498 – available today in digital format and 1 February in print – their predictions for Nissan’s lineup are as follows.

Daiki Sasaki would stay in the #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R, now partnered by two-time Suzuka 1000km winner James Rossiter, who transfers from Toyota.

Mitsunori Takaboshi is all but guaranteed to stay with Kondo Racing in the #24 Forum Engineering Advan GT-R, and with João Paulo de Oliveira leaving, it opens up a place for Jann Mardenborough to partner his fellow Nissan e.dams Formula E reserve driver – the duo did well in rookie testing at Marrakesh, Morocco. Former Mercedes DTM hotshoe Daniel Juncadella is a longshot to partner Takaboshi.

The #3 CraftSports Motul GT-R’s predicted lineup would be Kohei Hirate, transferring after over a decade with Toyota, and Frédéric Makowiecki, a former Honda GT500 driver under contract with Porsche. Satoshi Motoyama is a longshot to stay in the car, and auto sport did leave a context clue in their report of Oliveira’s departure from Nissan: Every lineup would feature one Japanese and one foreign driver.

Along with Oliveira, the odd drivers out would include Katsumasa Chiyo – who may come back from the Bathurst 12 Hour on 3 February, the race he won in 2015 which made him a household name in international GT3 competition, to find he’s been demoted back to the GT300 class after 3 years in GT500.

And, if the lineup is indeed Hirate and Makowiecki in the #3 CraftSports GT-R, it would mean, after 22 consecutive seasons as a GT500 driver at Nissan, that Motoyama’s top-flight racing career is over.

Toyota would typically make their announcement in the first week of February, followed by Nissan later in the month – so stay tuned on both those fronts.

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